Strategy overview

  • Investing in the future of neighborhoods: Initiatives to revitalize commercial corridors seek to stimulate a local economy through a group of short- and long-term interventions. These include physical improvements to the built environment, working with existing businesses to grow, incentivizing new businesses to launch in the area, and dedicating space and resources to strengthening community ties, such as through public art and cultural programming. Efforts are typically most robust in under-resourced communities, especially in areas that have seen significant population decline and have high commercial vacancy rates.
  • Collaborating for growth: Many efforts to re-energize retail strips require a collaborative approach to revitalize existing businesses, attract new ones to the area, and increase customer foot traffic. Initiatives are often led by a local business development coalition, which may include neighborhood business owners, local government leaders, a local chamber of commerce, community members, and others. One common way coalitions formalize their collaboration is through a business improvement district, in which local businesses pay an additional tax that goes toward revitalization efforts.
  • Creating a commerce-dense area: There are several approaches to creating a stronger financial environment for existing and new businesses. One particularly strong evidence-based approach is by creating or designating a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), which is typically a bank or credit union that provides affordable, non-predatory financial services to residents and businesses in underserved areas. CDFIs often have access to a stream of federal, state, and social impact funding that is difficult for individual businesses to access; CDFIs can then provide essential services for existing and new businesses, including small business loans, funding for capital projects, and business development assistance and education.
  • Improving the built environment: Physical revitalization of public and private space can attract more customers to the area. This includes investments in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, like expanding bike lanes and sidewalks; it may also include simple projects like installing new trash cans or public art. Some programs also connect business owners with financing to renovate storefronts and other privately-owned, public-facing property.

Studies on various approaches to revitalizing commercial corridors found promising, but limited, results on business growth and performance, employment, and public safety.

  • A 2022 research synthesis found expert consensus, but a lack of rigorous evaluation, that CDFIs can be associated with increases in business growth, economic development, and economic opportunity in under-resourced communities.
  • A 2020 quasi-experimental study found that bicycle and pedestrian improvements had either positive or non-significant impacts on economic (e.g., employment) and business performance (e.g., sales).
  • Multiple studies using pre-post measures found that business improvement districts are associated with a decrease in violent crime.

Before making investments in this strategy, city and county leaders should ensure this strategy addresses local needs.

The Urban Institute has developed an indicator framework to help local leaders assess conditions related to upward mobility, identify barriers, and guide investments to address these challenges. These indicator frameworks can serve as a starting point for self-assessment, not as a comprehensive evaluation, and should be complemented by other forms of local knowledge.

The Urban Institute's Upward Mobility Framework identifies a set of key local conditions that shape communities’ ability to advance upward mobility and racial equity. Local leaders can use the Upward Mobility Framework to better understand the factors that improve upward mobility and prioritize areas of focus. Data reports for cities and counties can be created here.

Several indicators in the Upward Mobility Framework may be improved with investments in commercial corridor revitalization. To measure these indicators and determine if investments in these interventions could help, examine the following:

  • Build a community-led coalition: High-impact efforts to revitalize commercial corridors are often led by a strong, community-led coalition. Seek a range of core competencies, such as public championing (local government leaders), economic growth (local businesses owners), financing (CDFIs or similar), networking (chambers of commerce), informed program design (community groups and residents), and more. The coalition should meet regularly and be prepared to act on short- and long-term initiatives.
  • Solicit external support: With a local coalition in place, external support is fundamental to successful, sustainable commercial corridor revitalization. Solicit technical assistance and financing solutions from the public (such as the Community Development Financial Institution Fund) and nonprofit sectors (like the Local Initiatives Support Corporation). National organizations like these can also provide a range of funding streams to further advance a program’s individual components, like creative placemaking and small business loans.
  • Identify quick wins: While larger investments in revitalization can take years to develop, there are significant opportunities for tangible, low-cost improvements that can help build momentum and attract more residents to the area. This can include beautification efforts, like installing trash cans, creative placemaking, like commissioning public art, and providing grants for small-scale projects like storefront aesthetic upgrades.
  • Invest in promotional materials: To drive customers to the area, dedicate substantial staff time and funding to marketing campaigns and promotional materials. This can include social media, advertisements on public transit, brochures and fliers highlighting cultural events, art exhibits, and more. Sufficient investment upfront can help create a virtuous cycle, wherein more customers facilitate additional capacity for investment in the area’s economic growth.